Eighteen-year-old Australian Instagram celebrity Essena O’Neill officially retired from social media. After posting a video on Vimeo, Essena explained how social media made her life toxic. Just as Justin Bieber once “retired” from pop music, O’Neil’s announcement of her retirement from social media ironically provided her with more social media attention than ever before.
Before her outburst, O’Neil had half a million Instagram followers, plus 200,000 subscribers on YouTube and Tumblr and 60,000 on Snapchat. Since then, she deleted 2,000 photos and changed the name of her Instagram account to “Social Media is Not Real Life.” She went through every single one of her Instagram posts and changed the captions to reveal the truth. The current captions explain the lengths to which she went to lose weight (not eating for full days) and was paid to advertise products in her photos. With captions like “NOT REAL LIFE – I didn’t pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram, the formal made me feel incredibly alone,” O’Neill shows that life is not always as glamorous as it appears to be in photos.
O’Neill is now launching a website, Let’s Be Game Changers, to spread messages of conscious living, create conversations on transparency online, minimize the celebrity culture, promote veganism, and make a forum to talk about real world issues. She hopes that others will realize the real world is much more powerful than any form of social media.
The feedback she received not only from fans but also from the media was originally positive, opening up a further discussion on the power of social media. However, most of what O’Neill has discussed isn’t groundbreaking news. Being only 18-years-old, some have credited her as the first to have the “social media” epiphany.
Though the 18-year-old received praise for her bravery in talking about her experience as a social media star, she is public enemy number one when it comes to her original followers and other social media stars. These critics are calling bullshit on her story, and in result, people are now questioning whether or not social media benefits our society.
Those against O’Neill defended social media, arguing it’s changed their lives for the better by garnering careers and encouraging open communication with people around the world. Many YouTube stars like Acacia Brinley and Andrea Russett urged their fans to not believe that everyones life on social media is fake and to realize that we all choose how we want to utilize social media.
Social media is an outlet. We choose what we want people to see. People argue it’s fake in the sense that we don’t get a full look at someone’s life through social media—only the glamorous parts. Most of us are posting pictures of us hanging with our friends, going on vacation, eating out, or going to parties—the happy times in our life, not the difficult ones. In this respect, some social media followers (especially young followers) may have reason to believe that someone’s life is “perfect” based on their Instagram photos. Obviously this isn’t true, but a 12-year-old girl who sees a photo of a girl posing in a bikini on a beach in California on Instagram may start to question her own beauty in comparison. That possibility does not seem far-fetched.
Social media can be fun but most of us do have problems with it. We can’t assume everyone’s experience is always positive. It is ignorant to ignore the fact that some people do put a persona on social media that does not accurately reflect their real lives as a whole. Whether O’Neill’s retirement is a publicity stunt or not, some people actually do need to be reminded that Instagram likes aren’t the most important thing in the world (and everything can be manipulated on social media).
It isn’t necessarily wrong to pose for an Instagram photo or to secretly promote Detox tea (let’s be honest, you don’t drink that shit), but it is important to keep in mind that most things are not what they seem… especially when there’s a filter on it.